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Law Office of Robert J. Ambrogi
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Rockport, MA 01966
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October 2002

Federal Sites Offer Resources For Conveyancers

By Robert J. Ambrogi

Any lawyer who has ever closed a real-estate sale is all too familiar with the HUD-1, the standard form used to settle the financial details of the transaction. Required by the federal Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, it is but one reminder of the many federal laws and regulations that come into play in conveyancing.

For lawyers who practice in this field, what better way to keep on top of all this than through the federal government's own Web sites? This month we look at some of the federal sites of particular use to lawyers involved in real estate law and practice.

Sources For Laws, Forms

The source of the HUD-1 is, of course, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which has dubbed its useful and informative site, "Homes and Communities." Dense and multi-layered, it is deep with resources for consumers and professionals alike.

Guiding visitors into all this is the well-designed front page. The main navigation bar, a vertical strip to the left that remains a constant throughout the site, links to information organized under five main topics: HUD News, Homes, Communities, Working With HUD, Resources, and Tools.

For consumers, the Homes section is likely to be of most interest, with pages devoted to buying, selling, renting and foreclosure. Lawyers are likely to be most interested in the Resources section, particularly its library. Jump to the section, "Legal Information," to find administrative law judge decisions, legal opinions from HUD's general counsel, handbooks, regulations, notices and more. Other library sections cover topics such as fair housing, lead paint, labor relations and FOIA.

Back on the front page, another navigation bar organizes the site not by topics, but by interest groups. Links lead to information designed for senior citizens, veterans, lenders, brokers, appraisers and small businesses, to name a few. Notably, the one interest group absent from this list is lawyers.

But that is OK, because HUD has a whole other site that should be the primary destination for real estate professionals. Called HUDCLIPS, it is HUD's official repository of policies, procedures, announcements and the like. Short for "HUD Client Information and Policy System," HUDCLIPS contains full-text searchable databases of all HUD handbooks; notices; mortgagee, preservation and Title I letters; U.S. Code titles 12 and 42; Code of Federal Regulations Title 24; housing waivers; Office of General Counsel preservation documents; Federal Register notices; and more.

HUDCLIPS also houses all HUD forms. Most come in PDF format, with some also in GIF format or as templates for Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel. The PDF forms are "fillable," meaning you can call up a form such as the HUD-1 settlement statement and fill it out right from the site.

Fannie and Freddie

Over at Fannie Mae, the nation's largest source of home-mortgage funds, its Web sites are under renovation. Actually a private corporation, federally chartered to increase the availability and affordability of housing, Fannie Mae has had a long-standing record on the Web of providing useful information for homebuyers and lenders, along with general financial and corporate information. Recent changes, however, are reorganizing key elements of the site.

The first change has to do with HomePath, a site for consumers that Fannie Mae operates as a companion to its main page. For several years, it has provided information on buying or refinancing a home along with tools designed to help locate a lender or mortgage. As of Nov. 15, 2002, Fannie Mae is closing HomePath and merging the content back into its main site. With the changeover, Fannie Mae says, will come new and enhanced content, while retaining many of HomePath's most popular features. These include mortgage calculators for helping consumers determine what price house they can afford, and a tool for searching for Fannie Mae properties for sale.

Of greater interest to lawyers is Fannie Mae's recent launch of a second companion site, eFannieMae, designed exclusively for professionals involved in lending, mortgage brokering, mortgage-backed securities and debt securities. Subsections provide complete libraries of downloadable forms and documents, regular news updates, information on mortgage products and services, and the text of guide announcements and lender letters, and more.

If Fannie Mae had a cousin, it would have to be Freddie Mac, another private corporation created by Congress, this one to support home ownership by purchasing mortgages and repackaging them into securities. Lawyers will find useful the current and historical prime mortgage rate information, as well as the various pages of information on mortgage and debt securities. All of Freddie Mac's mortgage documents are available for downloading, including its library of uniform mortgage instruments, organized by state.

Other Useful Sites

Real-estate transactions rarely occur without a bank involved, making the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, a useful resource. The FDIC's site has news of interest to the banking industry; federal banking laws and regulations; the full-text of its publications and articles, including a survey of the most important federal laws relating to banking; a number of statistical reports on banks and banking; and a host of other information for banking professionals and consumers.

Real estate lawyers can use the FDIC's site to investigate a particular bank's financial condition or to review any of a number of statistical reports such as the FDIC's semiannual Survey of Real Estate Trends. The FDIC is in the real estate business as well. In its capacity as a court-appointed receiver, the FDIC liquidates a variety of assets, including real estate. Use the site's Real Estate Retrieval System to search for FDIC properties for sale nationwide.

As I write this, a hurricane is bearing down on the Gulf Coast. Helping me track its progress is the Web site of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA's site is a general guide to the before and after of natural disasters – preventing them, preparing for them, mitigating loss from them, and dealing with their aftermath. The site provides information on the National Flood Insurance Program, the U.S. Fire Administration, housing recovery after a disaster, and FEMA mapping products. The library has official forms, information on filing a flood-insurance claim, and informative articles. There is even a collection of disaster photographs, with images of hurricanes, forest fires, avalanches, floods and tornadoes. If you have clients recovering from disasters or living and working in disaster-prone areas, this site is invaluable.

The last stop on this real-estate lawyers' tour of government Web sites is the Department of Veterans Affairs, Home Loan Guaranty Services. This site includes complete information on VA-guaranteed home loans. Sections for consumers help them determine their eligibility for a VA loan. For lenders and real-estate professionals, there is a guide to VA loans and a complete library of forms.

Robert J. Ambrogi, a lawyer in Rockport, Mass., is author of The Essential Guide to the Best (and Worst) Legal Sites on the Web, which is available from LawCatalog.com. E-mail him at rambrogi@legaline.com. Past installments of this column are archived at www.legaline.com.

© 2005 Robert J. Ambrogi.